Not surprisingly, kids who are chronically absent from school do worse on standardized assessment tests than their peers. When the 2012 Maryland School Assessment scores were released this summer, Baltimore City schools CEO Andrés Alonso identified missing 20 or more days per school year as a key factor in poor performance. As a board member of the Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC), a partnership that includes Johns Hopkins University, Alonso knows that chronic absenteeism affects more than just test scores. BERC has published studies that explore the relationship between attendance and retention. Students don't learn when they're not at school, and students who are frequently absent often eventually drop out.
Stephan Plank, an associate professor in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences' Department of Sociology and co-director of BERC, co-authored those papers. In July, his research was honored with one of the inaugural President's Research Recognition Awards for researchers examining Baltimore's urban issues. The two debut awards—each of which came with a $5,000 grant—went to Plank and to the team of Deidra Crews, HS '06, Med '07 (PGF), and L. Ebony Boulware, SPH '00, assistant professors of medicine who research ways to lower the incidence of kidney disease in impoverished African-Americans.
"There are so many faculty at Hopkins who do amazing things in the community," says Amy Gawad of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, which co-presented the awards. Last year, Gawad explains, the Community-University Coordinating Council, which is made up of Johns Hopkins faculty and community members and is one of the UHI's two advisory boards, suggested honoring Johns Hopkins researchers for their Baltimore-based endeavors.
The President's Research Recognition Awards acknowledge researchers who have been on the university's faculty for 10 or fewer years and whose research focuses on local urban issues. "There are faculty here whose heart is in community-based work," Gawad says. "But it takes time, and there's a lot of trust building that needs to take place."